Dog Bites and Vicious Dogs- Does Every Dog Get One Free Bite?

The large number of dangerous dogs taken into custody in Rochester, New York and Monroe County recently caused me to remember a conversation I had with an older injury lawyer many, many years ago. At the time, I was representing a young boy from Geneseo who had been bitten on the face by a neighbor's dog. The young man required two corrective surgeries to minimize the scarring, but even then he still had a large and visible scar on his lip and nose. I had mentioned the case in passing to this other attorney and he advised me that "Every dog gets one free bite", meaning, that in order for the boy to recover from the dog's owner, I would have to prove that the dog had previously bitten one other person. Doing so would, according to this other lawyer, allow me to establish that the dog was a danger and that the owner new it.

Well, the old lawyer was only partly right. While a person injured by a dog bite must prove that the dog that bit him/her had "vicious propensities", and that the owner knew or should have known of the same, you need not prove that the dog had bitten a human before. That the dog was aggressive and nasty and had displayed dangerous behavior on other occasions is good enough.

How can the dog's vicious propensities be proven? By testimony that the dog has chased people, has growled at them, has bitten other dogs or other animals, that the dog has snapped at others, etc.

So no, every dog does not get one "free" bite.